Reflections on the four noble truths

by Jake Dartington

The four noble (or ennobling) truths have always been a central to my understanding of Dharma practice. However, over the years, my interpretation of the truths has changed many times. While at first sight they feel very simple, as we reflect on them more deeply subtleties begin to emerge.

I find it helpful to think of the truths as offering a framework that stimulates our capacity to reflect on our own experience. In an unreflective mode, it’s easy to simply assume our struggles are a direct result of unfortunate events. For instance, we may think our unhappiness results from not having enough money, failing to find the right partner, or being in the wrong job. The noble truths encourage us to look in to our struggles more deeply and begin to distinguish the difficulties that are an inevitable part of human life from the extra struggles created by craving and ignorance.

Our course at Goodenough college will be a chance to look at all these teachings afresh. Rather than offering a rigid set of interpretations to be accepted or rejected, we will use the four noble truths as a way to encourage reflection on the perennial question of what it means to be free in the midst of the inevitable joys and sorrows of life.